Problems with Google Scholar Citations

Google Scholar Citations allow scholars to track how frequently their journal and book articles are cited. But the program, which just opened to the public, has a few problems.

December 5, 2011

I have to admit, I was pretty thrilled to first hear about Google Scholar Citations, a new tool from Google that helps scholars track their journal citation stats -- even more so when it was opened to the public last month.

After all, as it says somewhere in my bio, I'm a "recovering academic." Long before I was an ed-tech blogger, I was a PhD candidate. And back then, I wrote a lot too. I had a nice-looking CV with a couple of journal and book publications. I quit. Whatever.

I've left a lot of that world behind. And who cares, as a tech journalist, what I think about Guy Debord and the Situationists, right? Who cares about my articles on the Biotic Baking Brigade?

Nevertheless, as ego and SEO demand, I figured I'd create my Google Scholar Citations account, just to see how often some of my writing from long-ago was cited. And, I won't lie, now that so much of the Google search algorithm wants to tap into my "social" search (my Circles, my Google Profile and the like), I thought it might not be a bad idea to connect some old academic stuff to the new me.

But when I created my Google Scholar Citations account this weekend, I ran into two problems:

1) My name has changed since I first published. This isn't that uncommon a problem. It's something faced by many married (divorced, and/or widowed) women -- or at least, that's the source of my name-change. It happens: I published first under one name. Now I publish under another. Google Scholar Citations did pull a number of articles published under my "old name" that it surmised correctly were mine -- these were PDF copies of my old academic papers I have posted on my own domain. But Google's Scholar Citation search missed everything I'd published while in grad school, no doubt because I'd done so under a different name. I could, in all fairness to Google, still add these citations manually to my profile. (And I did.)

2) I can't be verified. I don't have an .edu email address any longer. That's required in order for Google to verify my account and make my Scholar Citations profile public and searchable. The sign-up form asked for "affiliation" too. I left that question blank, even though the University of Oregon was the institution I attended when I wrote these pieces. I'm not really affiliated with the UO now (even though I talk about them all the time lately -- thanks football team! thanks Lariviere!) There's no way for me to be able to bypass this requirement like there is for me to manually add my other-name citations.

I really love the idea of Google Scholar Citations -- love being able to see the network of citations from mine and others' scholarship. As much as I get irked by name-change stumbling blocks, I'm willing to overlook some of the problems with getting authorship right (that's a metadata issue, perhaps). But the problem with verifying who's actually a scholar seems a deeper one.

Only recognizing .edu email addresses limits what constitutes scholarship to academia (or to those universities that extend their alumni lifetime email). A lot of scholarship takes place outside the .edu domain. And a lot of scholarship is undertaken by those who only briefly get to claim a .edu address.

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